Atlanta, Politics and the Coast

Dr. Herb Windom is a professor emeritus at Skidaway Institute. Dr. Windom was the first scientist to join the faculty in the late 1960s and served as acting director of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography for several years in the late 1990s. He submitted the following entry. As the standard disclaimer goes — the opinions he offers are his own.

The Institute has just received a contract from the State of Florida Department of Environmental protection for about $200K. They come to the institute for the established high quality reliable trace contaminant analyses, the capabilities for which we have developed over the past almost 4 decades. We have conducted contractual work for Florida for the past 20+ years. This work has been done through unsolicited contracts where they have sought us. We have done similar work for other states as far away as New Jersey.

What is amazing to me is how little we are called upon by our on State. In fact there have been occasions when the State has had environmental concerns and have contracted with groups outside the State who have, in turn, come to us to help with the problem.

I am at a loss for why this occurs. This Institute does a lot to communicate what it does, so ignorance of our capability shouldn’t be the problem. I think it has most to do with the location of political power.

I know that for states, such as Florida, where we have done the most, the political power is on the coast and therefore more money is spent on the problems there. Florida spends an enormous amount on coastal problems that relate to the over developed coastline. The same can be said for South Carolina, where the political power is also on the coast.

In Georgia, the power is in Atlanta, so the major environmental issues that consume the environmental dollars in the State are urban air quality and potable water supply for the metropolitan area of Atlanta. But coastal Florida and South Carolina are about to run out of room and the Georgia coast has attracted much development interest. As the coast fills up and becomes overcrowded, the increased political power will bring more money to address the environmental problems which will surely follow.

It would make sense to address environmental problems which can be forecast and in the long run avoid many environmental, social and political problems in the future. But that does not make sense in terms of the 2-4 year cycles that govern the issues on which politician focus. Planning for the future to minimize or negate problems is not as politically attractive as doing something about an existing problem. Climate change is a good example. Rather than plan for it, politician are much happier addressing how we should stop it, as if we could. But this is for another time.

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